D.C.’s “silly season” has commenced.
Another confirmation that local election campaign nonsense is now fully underway was found in an opinion piece by D.C. Council member Jim Graham in last week’s edition of the Washington Blade. Graham only earlier in the week had announced a much-delayed decision to seek a fifth four-year term.
Graham suggests that the District’s preliminary inking of a deal to swap the Reeves Center government building site, at the corner of 14th and U streets in Northwest Washington, for land needed for a planned soccer stadium opens the door to dictating use-composition of a replacement private sector development project.
It doesn’t. Nor should it.
Also overestimating prerogatives in such matters, the U Street Advisory Neighborhood Commission earlier invited residents to a community meeting this week organized by the D.C. Department of General Services (DGS). ANC-1B solicited participation with the topic identified as “What should the D.C. government do with the Reeves Center?”
That isn’t the question.
In other words, a smokestack full of hot air has been released.
As confirmed with agency personnel, DGS scheduled the public meeting as an initial community outreach allowing city officials to update the status of city presentation of the deal for Council review. It is also a first step in engaging area residents to “analyze potential impacts related to the proposed disposition and redevelopment of the Reeves Center site” in order to later identify “mitigation strategies to minimize these impacts.”
Demolishing the aging Brutalist-style monstrosity most notable for its problem-plagued infrastructure and subsequent construction will pose neighborhood and commerce inconveniences. Hence, this initial public meeting.
Wishing for influence over the fundamentals of a developer’s already-planned project simply isn’t relevant.
This is not a city-issued request for proposals to develop city-owned land in the abstract. It’s a complex negotiated deal granting the government-owned site to a developer in exchange for land being assembled with city assistance for construction by D.C. United of a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point, four blocks from Nationals Stadium. When the land swap was publicly announced the developer presented schematics for the planned residential project with street level retail, all part of the deal.
While the deal has proven widely popular and enthusiastically embraced in a way that the baseball stadium arrangements never were, the D.C. Council must ratify the deal. Any ANC may choose to offer comment during public hearings.
Graham treating it like a building he can personally construct with Legos is outlandish.
Graham behaves as an old-world Soviet apparatchik, insisting on a defined private sector build-out to suit his command economy proclivities. He demands that the project consist of commercial office space instead of residential housing, including non-profit offices. He also specifies a seasonal farmers market on a public plaza not part of the plan – or likely economic feasibility.
Graham seems to think that replicating the current usage will somehow benefit the neighborhood in a way it doesn’t now.
Graham also plays the “gay card” – insisting space be provided to the “Gay Center.” When the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community smartly decided to temporarily utilize below-market rate retail space at the Reeves Center until relocating once demolition begins, a commitment for government-owned rental space was conveyed.
Despite strong public support for the stadium land swap and among his colleagues, Graham declares that he is “willing to consider” supporting the deal if it conforms to his druthers.
The best Graham offers in the realm of economics is that “a major private commercial office building ought to find this space very attractive.” In the real world of business, however, differentials in viability between adding to a glut of D.C. office space and satisfying market-driven housing demand are transparent.
Graham, or an advisory neighborhood group, shouldn’t attempt to queer the deal with the personal preferences of those accustomed to allocating the public dole.
Step aside, Mr. Graham, this is enterprise at work – again benefiting our city.